Introduction to Participant-Centered Training Delivery

Or, how I spent last week 🙂

Nothing is more fun than three ring binders.

Nothing is more fun than three ring binders. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So last week I was down in Toronto, the Big Smoke, Hogtown (never figured out why they call it that—oh, my friends Google and Wikipedia have discovered the answer: livestock processing was a big part of Toronto at one time) co-facilitating the Introduction to Participant-Centered Training Delivery (IPCTD) course.

Ostensibly, this is part of my attempt to become certified as a trainer through my employer.  The co-facilitation of this course was listed as a recommendation to anyone going through the process.  I didn’t think I would have this opportunity, having been told in the fall that the delivery of this and all other certification courses was being outsourced.

When the opportunity arose, I could not pass it up.

My co-facilitator and mentor for this part of the journey had just been certified in November herself and part of the purpose of our training together was so that she could give me a few pointers, watch out for those unconscious bad habits of the past.

I’ve blogged about Participant-Centered Training (PCT) before, but just to recap for those of you not interested in reading the whole post:

[In PCT, t]he trainer is merely present to elicit the desired knowledge from the learners, to encourage the appropriate behaviours, and to facilitate the process of discovery that will lead the learners to exhibit the desired performance in the workplace.  It’s no longer about [the trainer] having all the answers, but about being able to help the learners, now active participants in their own learning, find the answers for themselves.

The tag line is: Instead of the “sage on the stage,” be the “guide on the side.”

The course is two and a half days long and includes a practical demonstration by the participants, of the techniques they’ve learned.

Prior to the course, I met virtually with my co-facilitator a couple of times.  We divided up the material so that neither one of us would be leading the class for very long.  I read through the material to refresh my memory (when I took the course as a participant, it was 2009 and the course had subsequently been revised) and made copious notes.  I also brought a second copy of all the manuals, flipcharts, and PowerPoint presentations on a USB.

I travelled down on Tuesday morning and helped my co-facilitator set up the room.  That’s one thing to keep in mind with PCT: it may demand less of the facilitators in the classroom, but it requires much more preparation.  There are usually tonnes (I’m Canadian, eh?) of flip charts, visuals, learning aids, and activities to be set up in order for the session to go as planned.

The facilitators’ manual is critical as it lists times and required elements for each section of the course.  Most PCT courses are crammed full of information, the enrichment materials marked as “optional.”  Most of the time, there is no time to address much of the “optional” material, but every attempt is made to at least refer to it and ensure that the participants have access to those additional references and resources.

The course

The course was designed with a nautical theme and contained four sections: Opening and introduction; Methodologies and techniques; Communication, group building, group management techniques, and co-facilitation skills, with the practical component thrown in for good measure; and the Course closing.

The pre-course materials and assignments were to have been printed out, reviewed, completed, and brought with the participants.

The course opening includes an activity first thing to immediately engage the participants in the topic, review of some of the pre-course materials, expectations, comfort rating, course objective, agenda, participant introductions, and an introduction to PCT.

A note on objectives: prior to getting into PCT myself, I didn’t know the criteria for a good course objective.  A course objective should include performance, process, and standard or method of evaluation.

Examples: By the end of this course, you will be able to build a bird house using the bird house building instructions so that the result will meet the criteria described in the bird house schematic.

Or: By the end of this course, you will learn how to process an application, using the application policy, such that you will be able to achieve our 80% quality assurance goal on the simulation test.

Or: By the end of this course, you will be able to use Microsoft Word, in accordance with the Microsoft Word for Dummies Tip Sheet, so that you will be able to create documents for your employer more efficiently and confidently.

And yes, the standard or method of evaluation can be the participant’s own comfort level.

The methodologies and techniques section deals with the different PCT methods of delivery and the specific techniques, or activities that can be used to effectively engage participants.

The next section is the big one.  Communication skills, group building, group management, and co-facilitation are all covered, and then the participants are divided into groups, assigned a topic, and given an hour and a half to work on a 20 minute presentation in which they will demonstrate the skills, methods, and techniques they have learned.

The closing section revisits much of the material presented in the opening to answer the following questions:  Did we meet the course objective and participant expectations?  Do the participants feel they have learned valuable tools that they will take back to their jobs?  Review and transfer strategies are also incorporated.

Throughout the course, the co-facilitators are actively demonstrating all of the skills that we teach.  That’s another difficult aspect of adopting PCT: developing your awareness.  Though PCT takes the pressure off the facilitators to be the “talking head” or subject-matter expert, they have to be aware of everything that’s happening in the class: the participants’ attitudes, changing levels of engagement, the environment, and their own behaviours.

If you’ve done any training in a traditional environment, it’s essentially lecture.  Students sit there like baby birds waiting for their meal to be shoved down their throats.  This establishes some habits that have to be consciously broken when the trainer moves to PCT.

Questioning techniques are paramount.  Relays and overheads fly and form the foundation of debriefing every activity and conducting every review.  Knowledge must be drawn out of the participants, not fed to them.

This can be demanding, especially for someone like myself.  Though I enjoy training and think that I am good at it, I am, at my core, a shy person, and more fond of information than of social interaction.  This makes delivering training an exhausting activity for me.  I’ve noticed that even in the last six months that my tolerance seems to have decreased.  The need to retreat at the end of the day is nigh on irresistible.

Despite this, my co-facilitator said that after the first day, she didn’t notice any bad habits or poor behaviours on my part.  I was a little too fond of the closed questions at the start.  We worked well together and delivered a course that was well-received by the participants.

I won’t be able to review the assessments for a while yet, but there was nothing but compliments flying about the room that last day.

So that’s the Learning Mutt’s adventure for this week.  Tomorrow, I’m heading out of town again and we’ll see if the life of a training coordinator will provide any more fodder for Writerly Goodness in the future 🙂

Next weekend, look forward to an interview with Laura Conant Howard in conjunction with her cover reveal blitz for the upcoming The Forgotten Ones, another pupdate, and, if I have the gumption, my review of the Galaxy Note II as the smart phone writers want 🙂

Goodnight everyone!

Sunday night line up: Once Upon a Time; Beauty and the Beast; and Lost Girl 🙂

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What I’d like to do, but can’t …

Now I know what you’re thinking.  Those are the words of a whiner, but I’m stating a fact and not trying to make excuses.  Honest.  There’s only one of me, and I don’t have a time-turner, like the one Dumbledore gave Hermione in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Last week, I expressed my coulda-woulda-shouldas with respect to a piece of computer-based training.  What I’m talking about this week is part of the same training beast.  The virtually-delivered piece.

In my role as training coordinator, it’s not my task to deliver the training or to design it, and though I am training this week, it’s because I’ve no choice in the matter.  If I didn’t step in, the project would have stalled, possibly fatally.

Even as a trainer though, I’m a total n00b.  I’ve only been a trainer for three years, and though I enjoy it, and believe I’m good at it, I know I have a lot to learn and am far from perfect.  I’m even greener with respect to instructional design.  I only started doing that last year.

But if I can think of a better way to design and deliver training, then it must need improvement.

I have to step back a bit and explain a couple of things before I get to the meat of the post.

About a month ago, the task of organizing the training of all staff in Ontario on a new initiative was assigned to me.  The training products were given to the two consultants who agreed to deliver the training.  I had two weeks to get everything together, the training schedule, WebEx meetings, and invitations.  I didn’t have time to read, let alone critique or redesign the course material for virtual delivery.

So now we’re into week three of the WebEx sessions and I’ve just started my week of training.  Already, I’ve received reports back on how boring the session is.  It wasn’t designed with virtual delivery in mind.  On average, the sessions are running two hours, which is too long to sit in front of your computer, staring at a screen.

What I’d do for this course (if I could):

  • There is a policy bulletin for the new initiative and a Job Aid.  Though technically, this was all supposed to be a “pre-read,” I’d like to have had the time to turn it into a true pre-course assignment with some form of assessment, submitted to the trainers in advance, so they could have some indication of the group’s level of understanding of the new initiative prior to the course.
  • Start with an activity reviewing the four aspects of their job that this new initiative will change and conduct a proper debrief.
  • Have the exercises on a PowerPoint or Notebook presentation with answers on a reveal.  Use the annotate feature in WebEx to have participants complete the blank assignments (one “scribe” with group support) and debrief using the revealed answers.
  • Let the participants “play” with the online tool designed to help them implement the new initiative by assigning them control of the application through WebEx.  Alternately, this could be a post-course assignment to assist with skill transfer.

Now of course, all of this would make the session considerably longer and comfort breaks would have to be worked in, or the session broken up into smaller pieces (four 30 minute sessions would be my preference).

Why none of this could happen:

This is our busiest time of year, compounded by summer leave.  The timing of this new initiative couldn’t be worse.  As a result, we had to fight for the time to do the one-cheeked job we’re doing.

The initiative will be effective in August.  The training had to be completed before then.

There simply wasn’t time to roll this out differently given the tools and the resources we have.

This is why I often wish I was Shakti, one of the Hindu goddesses of multiple aspects and multiple arms 🙂  Then I might really be able to be in two places at once, doing two (or even three) jobs.  The word “shak” in Sanskrit means “to be able.”

Ah well, so much for dreaming 🙂

Timing is everything, they say.  Have you had a situation in which you’ve been “under the gun” with respect to training?  Were you able to pull a rabbit out of your hat or did you have to make do?  Is good enough really good enough?

That’s all from the Learning Mutt this week.

Learning elearning, the hard way :)

Last time, on Breaking open the mind: I participated in my first real working group.

In March of 2011, my team received a gift: our first non-acting manager in years!  We’d gone through four in the past year alone and it was hell.  The manager that we started the year out with had been our acting manager for a while.  He knew the team and what we needed, but then he moved onto another position.  Then, we had a manager for all of three weeks before she also took on another position.

Finally, there were two other acting managers who, while well-meaning and perfectly competent, really didn’t feel comfortable in the role for the training team.  The manager that we’d had for such a short time the summer previous was successful in a competition and returned as our manager, but this time permanently.

So, a new manager, and a new fiscal year threw things into high gear.  Our budget was restricted.  No overtime, and certainly no money for travel.  We had to start looking at alternatives to in-class, instructor-led training if we wanted to be able to continue and continue to be relevant.

Thus working groups evolved for the SMART Board and WebEx, our two main tools that could be used to deliver virtual training, either synchronously (together), or asynchronously (independently).  To follow up those two courses was to be a third, regarding elearning design and the conversion of in-class course materials to online or virtual vehicles.

Though I was considered the go to person with regard to the SMART Board, I couldn’t legitimately volunteer for any of the working groups.  My father had recently passed away, and I had asked for several weeks of leave.  I wouldn’t even be around when the training would be delivered to our colleagues.

However, I did get a “consulting” role on both the SMART Board and the elearning groups.  I ended up designing a good portion of the pre-course modules for the SMART Board course, though I must say that Monica did a smashing job of finishing them off, and of the Notebook presentation and recording.  Sadly, I got little to nothing done with regard to the elearning design course.  Monica and Laura were left with the bulk of the work.

When I returned from my leave, however, there was tweaking to be done.  The SMART Board course was a success as it was, but the elearning, having been piloted, needed some rework.  For one thing, it was too long.  Laura was seconded to another working group, and so Monica and I set to.

Shortly thereafter, Monica was pulled onto the WebEx team, or rather became the WebEx team, leaving me to finish off the elearning.  Really, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing.

I can write though 🙂  So I wrote my way through, like I usually do, and ran the rest on instinct.

I turned the lectur-y, research-y bits into a search and learn pre-course module.  I crammed in metaphors a-plenty, drawing heavily on the resources that my manager threw my way.  I created a post-course assessment, and tidied up the elearning toolkit that Laura had created.

One critical piece I learned was the importance of storyboarding the presentation.  I scripted that sucker out to the last detail.  I also became fairly adept at PowerPoint, and incorporated Notebook activities into each module as review and assessment tools.

I learned a lot writing the course, but in the months since, I’ve learned much more, and I’d love the opportunity to go back and refine things a bit.

When time came to pilot the course a second time, there was only one of our colleagues left to attend, or offer input for review (Thanks, Sandy).  It seemed to go well, but there hasn’t been much call for the course since.  No sooner was I finished with elearning, though, and I was on to the next project.

More on that in a couple of weeks.  Next week I’m going to share a recent, bittersweet experience with you.

Interesting update: Our work of the SMART Board project has been recognized with a service award for our wee working group. (w00t!)

How has the era of reduced budgets and travel affected your training efforts?  Are you adapting courses for online delivery?  How is that working out for you?